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June 23, 2013

Comments

cyril

Great job Mr Celce!
I'm going to put the link of your article on my Blog!

Hugh

Facinating article. I wonder if this practice is so prevelent elsewhere in the world, or is it just used in high yield marginal climate locations?

Joe

The Horror! I can hear the vines screaming and the ancestors of the Champagne region rolling in their graves. Sad that $$$$ far outweighs anything else. Looking forward to getting back to natural farming methods where humans share the land with nature. We are all in this together. Nice to hear the story of the older gentleman and his connection with the land/vineyard and the people in his community. He should be giving lectures to the new generation (of which I am part of) as we have lots to learn.

stefano

Hi, good article overall, but I work in Italy, and I import champagne directly from producers, mainly bio/organical/biodynamic ones. I go to champagne at least twice a year and even if all you posted is true, I think you could have focused more on the effort a lot of small and medium little producers are doing to change the way they work or the way that others do. There is surely much more that has to be done, but there definitely is a new attention to the problem, and many of the products I've tasted or worked are the true expression of it. Best regards. Stefano

Caroline Henry

This is a very interesting article and whilst I believe there is a lot if truth here I also feel the main point is scaremongering.

Let me explain - I feel the biggest void here is the total lack of recent information on spraying habits in Champagne. The first article is about Bordeaux and it is stated that Champagne sprays more - but not facts underpin this. Another article specifically talking about Champagne dates from 2006 and things have changed significantly since. There is information available from the CIVC research centers. In fact Champagne is one of the few appellations where the inter-profession mainly focuses on research and a lot of things have been done on appellation level to improve the quality of the grapes and the soils in the last 5-7 years. Eg Helicopter spraying has been phased out and the use of pesticides has been halved since 2006...

Having said that , living here I will be the last person to say that there is no spraying. In fact I wrote an article last year stating how sick I had gotten from the first sprays (http://www.missinwine.com/blog/2012/05/carolines-champagne-is-sustainable-or-organic-farming-the-gateway-to-the-future/). I also am working on a pro0ject about the terroir here in which I focus on organic and biodynamic growers and others which work in a "sustainable' way - ie they focus on a living soil. And there are quite a few people that are doing a great job. I feel this article puts everybody in the same basket which is really not the case.

The issue behind all of this is indeed the high yields - which are for the record not higher than the yields in many New world Countries (known examples for me are Australia and New Zealand as I lived and worked there as well in the past) which drive growers to push the soils to the limit - as again is done in many parts of NZ and Australia...
The difference in Champagne is that the yields are set every year on Appellation level by the CIVC - which is often pushed by the larger Champagne groups - LVMH, BCC, etc in function of future sales as well as what is out the in the vineyard. The fact that the appellation yields are set only a few weeks before vintage entices people to push all year to make sure they will meet the maximum yield (which in a way is what people are expected to harvest)
So as long as people are paid by the Kilo and Houses are pushing people, bribing them with all kinds of things to make the appellation things will not change much but this does not mean that some grower producers and some houses (eg Roederer) are doing all they can to work with living soils. This generally requires more sweat and tears and brings a lesser yield - so I feel that excluding these people here adds to the the article being a bit one sided. Champagne is a complex regions, and the differences between the soils here are as vast as the differences between the producers. Yes some of the soils are more than dead, but there also are some soils which are very much alive here... (among others Vincent Laval's soils ;-))

Arnold Waldstein

Nice piece.

I'm a wine blogger (wwww.arnoldwaldstein.com) but also the founder of a wine community (www.localsip.com). I will share in both places.

Discussion on @thelocalsip Facebook and Twitter pages has taken on some steam already. You should pop in.

Thanks

Bert

Caroline :
My point is not scaremongering, although the result could be interpreted like this, my point is just to show the often-unseen side of the wine : the vineyard, I didn't make this up and I didn't walk kilometers to take these pictures, these scenes and soil traumas just jumped at my face as soon as I walked a few meters among the vineyards.
I may just have had bad luck but I'm not sure of that...
This said, I'm sure things are slowly changing, but the vineyard and soil outlook just didn't show it where I stopped.
Speaking of yields, I recognize that I'm used to visit growers who don't need the Appellation-body ruling to decide what yields they'll get, they just choose yields that fits with their quality target. Another world for sure.

Benoit

It's a good thing to point out the lack of efforts of many producers for business motivations, but please don't use this "tabloid" tone...Your article is full of shortcuts and imprecisions (especially regarding the iron chelates).
The garbage manuring was presented to producers as the most ecological thing ever...until 1992 where they discover that it was a lie.
Just have a look on the efforts that have been done for 15 years...

Jennifer Fluteau

I agree with Caroline, and I would call this kind of article "champagne bashing" which is becoming more and more prevalent, or at least it seems that way to me. You are the second blogger in less than three months to mention (again) the old "garbage in the vineyards" bit (Jim Budd, see link http://jimsloire.blogspot.fr/2013/04/the-importance-of-terroir-in-champagne.html)
So you met and spoke with ONE retired grower. I have lived and worked with my husband and his family winery in southern Champagne for over 20 years and if you want to REALLY know what it's like to run a vineyard, I invite you to visit us in the Aube. We are grower-producers trying to encourage our vines to produce the very best they can, in a VERY uncertain and difficult climate. No, we are not saints, and dealing with nature means choosing the best alternative when there is not just one single solution, weighing the pros and cons between each option. Let me give you an example. We have been plowing our vineyards for the past 5 years. But in order to keep the weeds under control, we need to plow several times during the season, using our petrol powered tractor (sorry, we don't have horses....) Thus instead of applying one round of herbicide, we end up polluting the air more than our colleagues using weed killers. So there are always trade offs. Yes, sometimes we in champagne, as in other wine making regions, make mistakes. But as Caroline pointed out, champagne is trying to get it right, and much progress has been made.
Although there are those in champagne who are out there just for the money (yes, that exists..),Stefano is right - there are many small producers like us who are making champagne out of a sense of legacy and pride. Check out the "Vigneron Indépendants de Champagne" website to find out more.

Tom Stevenson

Benoit, Caroline and Jennifer (hello Jennifer!) are essentially right, but Bertrand is right to show that video: it was chilling, I have seen a few bad vineyards in Champagne, as I have seen in every region around the world, but never one that so dead. I am very familiar with the region and that was uniquely disgusting. If you “didn't walk kilometers to take these pictures, these scenes and soil traumas just jumped at my face as soon as I walked a few meters among the vineyards”, then you must be the unluckiest man on earth Bertrand. I don't want to be anywhere near you in a storm when there is lightening about! But you have only done half job Bertrand and half a job is no job at all. On the one hand, it is disingenuous to give the impression that this is a common sight in Champagne, and on the other, it is totally lacking in moral fibre not to name the owner of this shameful vineyard. It is admirable that a French writer could and should be so critical of his own country. It shows objectivity. But the first thing any writer should do after filming such an horrific video is to track down the owner of the vineyard and name and shame. It is a relatively simple journalistic task.

There is a general tone about this piece and some of the comments that small growers are good and big houses bad. Some are, of course, but some of the most forward thinking viticultural practices and healthiest vineyards (in terms of microbial biomass and worm population) in Champagne are run by the largest houses, but they own barely 10 per cent of the vineyards. More than 90 per cent of the vineyards are owned by small growers. However, of the 15,000-plus growers, only 3,000 or so actually make and sell their own Champagne. The vast majority of growers who sell their own wines (like Jennifer Fluteau) look after their vineyards beautifully, but there is a significant chunk of the other 12,000 growers who do not. Most do, either directly or indirectly through vineyard management by the houses they have long term contracts to supply. The significant chunk of non-RM growers I refer to are the speculators (which would take an entire article to explain, and I cannot be bothered), but even amongst the worst of those, I have never seen such a disgraceful vineyard as the one in your video. You must name and shame.

Benoit is correct when he writes “garbage manuring was presented to producers as the most ecological thing ever”. In fact, the idea was conceived and pioneered in the 1950s as a biodynamic solution to municipal garbage disposal in Oakland, California, by Dr. Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, Rudolf Steiner's closest associate. What people either do not know or conveniently forget is that the 1950s was the height of the spread of machine-managed, chemically-assisted monoculture worldwide for a good reason: a world war had made tens of millions homeless refugees (11.5 million Germans alone), people had to be fed and because the war had virtually wiped out a generation manpower had to be replaced by machines and yields pumped-up. None of this excuses any excesses in vineyards today, but it does explain where agriculture in general was coming from and although the French have not been leading the way in adopting more sustainable agriculture, French viticulture is leading the way compared to other forms of French agriculture, and within French viticulture Champagne might not be the leading region (because its uncertain climate is part of the reason for its success and the more rot-prone a vineyard is, the harder it is not to spray), but Champagne has one of the highest conversions to sustainable viticulture in the country, as well as one of the fastest growing number of producers qualifying for the much wider ISO 14001 environmental certification (currently 27% of Champagne business volume).

It could be better, of course. Things can and should improve, and on environmental issues that is the way they have been heading in Champagne strongly for the last 15 years or so. If you want to follow that progress retrospectively, get hold of the annual Guide Practique Viticulture Durable en Champagne back to 2008 when it was Viticulture Raisonnée en Champagne, to 2001 when it was Viticulture Raisonnée & Environment, to 2000 when it was Viticulture Intégrée & Environment, and before, when lutte raisonnée was just a section in this publication.

You could improve too, Bertrand, by naming the owner of the vineyard you just happened to stop your car in front of and wander into. If it is a large group or a true RM, I'll eat my hat (and hit them with a big stick).

Bert

Unlucky pick ?!?

Insiders confirmed to me that iron-chelate injection is pretty common in Champagne;

Secondly, there's no such thing in my tone that small growers are good and big growers bad, I've always said that small conventional growers/wineries are certainly as heavy-handed (if not worse) in their vineyard management and cellar practice as the large estates, that's why I didn't follow the Mondovino message in that sense.

Also, my point is not to give names but tell about things encountered in the vineyard (again, something that has been reported to me as mainstream) and that glossy magazines will carefully keep in the dark. As for the "agriculture raisonnée", I'm pretty sure that the scaring vineyards of Beaujolais and Muscadet featured in my recent stories are also playing the sustanaible card or "reasonned agriculture"...

Tom Stevenson

Unlucky or not, that vineyard is not representative. If your job "is not to give names but tell about things encountered in the vineyard ... that has been reported to me as mainstream" then your job is to regurgitate the opinions of others. I have now reported that to you that the vineyard in your video is not representative, so the the basis of your own standards why not accept that, rather than the grossly ill-informed opinion you were fed?

I made no comment about iron-chelate, but if you want one, here it is: they don't need it to reach whopping great yields in Champagne. Anyone who has followed Champagne for decades knows that. On the other hand, in a region that has the highest active-lime content in the world, chlorosis is a big problem and that is pure science.

By refusing to name the owner of the dead vineyard you claim to be representative of mainstream Champagne, you are as guilty as those "glossy magazines" you claim carefully keep things like this in the dark.

And, finally, if producers who adhere to agriculture raisonnée do not mention this on their labels (and most do not), but organic and biodynamic producers declare their certified status, who - I ask - is "playing the sustainable card"?

Bert

Having a dead soil and still claiming sustanaibility IS playing a card, while displaying a certification (for an organic grower) is just showing that he's serious in his approach. Most of the growers I visit don't even ask the certification, by the way, sometimes because this certification doesn't take into account the additive-free vinification they're doing (you can be organic-certified and still correct your wine in the cellar).

György Márkus

Eversince the world began there have been frauds and mischievous actions in every segment of industrial and agricultiral activities, wherever money is involved, Why should vinegrowing, vineyard management be an exception and why should Champagne be an exception? As everyone knows white is never 100% white. I usually spend several months in Champagne visiting domaines, maisons and coops as well as vineyards, but have never seen such a parcel lacking any sign of life. You Mr Celce are right to show this material to your readers since everyone has the right to know what the wine he or she drinks is made from. However, the material is by far NOT representative. All in all I have walked hours in different corners of the vineyards of Champagne without encountering such disgusting parcels which is the 'fruit' of human activities. Unfortunately, the cellars and the cupboards are full of skeletons that have no names. Why are you hiding the one you are describing here? The consumers who might drink this person's champagne and the honest producers need to know his/her name. You cannot refer to the usual clichés 'someone said', 'I was informed', 'people say' etc. ....This person poisons the organism of others, so I am convinced you have to name him/her. You probably remember even Monsieur Tricatelle's name and his background operations were revelaed. This is now cardinal.
György Márkus

Bert

Surprising comment. This vineyard has nothing exceptional in Champagne, while vineyards with weeds growing freely on living soils are known to be still a rare thing.

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